In 2009, Max Boon was seriously injured in a terrorist attack on the Marriott Hotel in the Indonesian capital Jakarta. He is now about to launch a project in Indonesia aimed at bringing youths at risk of becoming radical extremists into contact with the victims of terrorism. “I want to use my unique experience to make the world a better place.”
Before the year is out, Max Boon (35) hopes to start his ‘de-radicalisation’ project. It depends on the final stages of his treatment. Max lost both his legs in the Jakarta attacks and has been undergoing intensive physiotherapy at a Dutch rehabilitation centre since October 2009. “I’m learning to walk on prosthetic legs and I recently began using computer-controlled knee joints. So far, so good.”
It was during his many hours of walking practice that the idea was born to set up a project to discourage terrorism, in cooperation with the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism (ICCT) in The Hague. “The aim is to confront potential terrorist recruits with the faces of victims, to convince them that they cannot achieve their goals through violence. All violence does is cause immeasurable pain to people with whom they have more in common than they realise.”
How does Max envisage the project?
“A victim of terrorism, a former terrorist and an Islamic scholar will work together, going to neighbourhoods which are potential breeding grounds for violent radicalism. They will visit Islamic boarding schools, regular schools and community organisations, where they will tell their stories. The scholar is there to engage people in theological discussions. We will show impressionable people, who are likely to fall prey to radical ideas, the real-life consequences of the abstract idea that you can create hatred by bombing somewhere.”
Max Boon plans to start by setting up a database of victims in Indonesia. He has already established contact with victim support organisations. “You need to select people from the database who have a good story and who are able to tell it convincingly. These victims then have to receive guidance and training, and psychological support where necessary. After all, this will not be an easy process for them.”
Max believes it is important that the victims are Indonesians, as they are likely to appeal more to potential terrorists than an American or a Dutchman. For this reason he does not see himself doing the talking, but is concentrating instead on the organisational side of things. Max already has an idea about which former terrorists to approach. “A number of candidates are already cooperating with the Indonesian authorities and take an active part in de-radicalisation projects.” Representatives from major Islamic organisations are also keen to take part.
Two bombs exploded at the Marriott and the Ritz-Carlton hotels in Jakarta on 17 July 2009, killing nine people. Over 50 people were injured, including Max Boon, who was at the Marriott to attend a breakfast business meeting. After being kept in a coma for three weeks, he awoke to find that he had no legs and that his right arm had been shattered. He had sustained burns, and shrapnel from the bomb was embedded in his body, including one shard still in his heart. Police believe the terrorist leader, Noordin Mohammed Top, who was killed two years ago, was the brain behind the attacks.
Max wants to focus on people like the person behind the attack on the Marriott, which has such a dramatic effect on his life. The culprit was an impressionable lad from a broken home who came into contact with a man at his local mosque who brainwashed him and talked him into carrying out the attack.
“Boys and girls who end up with no prospects are easy prey for people with violent views. These are the people we hope to reach and to save from the same fate that befell that boy who walked into the hotel where I was.”
The pilot project in Indonesia will last for one year and will be partly funded by the Indonesian government. Max is still looking for sponsors to cover the remaining costs. Once the year is up, the idea is that a foundation or NGO will continue the programme. Max is even considering the possibility of “exporting” the concept to other countries.
One fateful day
But the last thing Max wants to do is invest all his time and energy in this project. “Before the attack, I was working as a consultant in Indonesia, and I am keen to pick up where I left off. I’ve launched the project because I want to use my unique experience to make the world a better place. But I don’t want to end up devoting the rest of my working life to that one fateful day.”